Only 2 of 24 races in the one-house legislature had an incumbent on the ballot, opening the door to plenty of new blood, lots of inexperience, and hopefully some fresh ideas. Unfortunately, it also meant the departure of numerous long-time representatives of working people who have offered voices of common sense and moderation to balance the Unicameral's more reactionary elements. Senators such as Matt Connealy, Nancy Thompson, David Landis, Chris Beutler, Dennis Byars, and even Don Pederson were all forced to abandon their seats.
Clearly, it's too early to say how Nebraska will truly fare under the term limits regime, but - just looking at the results from Tuesday - I feel confident saying the worst dangers have been averted. In fact, there's even a lot of reason to be excited.
In partisan terms, the Democratic Party is assured gains of two seats, with the possibility of picking-up a third seat in the as-yet undecided 12th District currently represented by Pam Redfield. At the very least, this makes up for the two defections reported last spring.
Meanwhile, Democrat Steve Lathrop is 14 votes down to Republican Jean Stothert in the 12th - the most expensive race of the cycle - to which the final outcome may not be known for several weeks. In the spirit of the nonpartisan legislature, though, I must say that both of these candidates have a lot to offer and their constituents are likely to be well-represented no matter who ends up victorious.
By my count, 6 seats changed party hands - 2 Democratic seats won by Republicans and 4 Republican seats won by Democrats (with the possibility of a fifth). One of the Democrats' lost seats, however, should provide little change in voting patterns, as out-going State Sen. Pam Brown (Dist. 6) was generally quite conservative. The other lost seat was that of Thompson (Dist. 14) to Tim Gay, the Republican near-appointee to that seat in 2005 when Thompson flirted with resignation.
Democratic gains were made in the Dist. 26 seat held by Marian Price, the Dist. 30 seat held by Dennis Byars, the Dist. 32 seat held by Jeanne Combs, and the Dist. 34 seat held by Bob Kremer. The new senators, respectively, are Amanda McGill, Norm Wallman, Russ Karpisek, and Annette Dubas.
McGill's victory was important because it completed a Democratic trifecta in Lincoln's interior, and Wallman's victory is certainly welcome as another repudiation of his opponent, the ever-ambitious Tony Ojeda. Karpisek and Dubas, however, are the biggest pick-ups because the Senators they're replacing (Combs & Kremer) are cut from a much different cloth than moderate Republicans Price and Byars. The fact that they represent gains in rural Nebraska is particularly heartening.
Another legislative race of note is the 8th Dist., where Tom White will replace term-limited State Sen. Patrick Bourne - a supposed Democrat who's fallen into disrepute at this site after topping his earlier endorsement of Gov. Dave Heineman with a late-election endorsement of Adrian Smith in Nebraska's Third District Congressional race. The former may have been tolerable under the Unicameral's nonpartisan ideal, but getting involved in a highly-contested, extremely partisan federal race does not invite the same attempt at understanding.
Although not representing a party change, the New Nebraska Network also celebrates the victories of Tom Hansen, Professor Bill Avery, and the magnificent Danielle Nantkes - each of whom were the more progressive alternative in the races to replace long-time Senators Pederson, Beutler, and Landis, respectively. Of course, Hansen - a former head of the Nebraska Cattlemen Association - doesn't really fit alongside proud Democrats like Avery and Nantkes, but he was certainly a more attractive choice in North Platte than Marc Kaschke, who was one of few candidates to go on record in support of the Initiative 423 spending lid.
There were quite a few other legislative races across the state in which I may have missed some significant political implication. If anyone has anything to add about these, please do so in the comments. And, best of luck to all of our new state senators. I wish them all courage and wisdom in their service to the people of Nebraska.